The Assault upon Trained Intelligence
July 19, 2004
||In the conditions of modern life the rule is absolute, the race
which does not value trained intelligence is doomed.
Alfred North Whitehead
The Aims of Education
As anyone with an active and informed interest in the state of our nation is
aware, George Bush's "compassionate
conservatism" has impacted heavily and cruelly upon today's generation of
It is one thing to know this as an abstract fact, and quite another to face
the particular and personal manifestations of these policies. This week we
were vividly reminded of the personal dimensions of the educational crisis
when we received a message from a young college student in our area,
hard-pressed to continue his education amidst the public squalor brought on by Bushenomics.
The source of the financial emergency facing this student, and millions of
others like him, is no mystery. Federal tax cuts and unfunded mandates
have put financial burdens on the states which have, in turn, led to budget
cutbacks and tuition increases in the public colleges and universities.
Compounding these hardships, the sagging job market has deprived many poor
students of the opportunity to put themselves through college. And so,
throughout the nation, hordes of qualified and motivated students are being
forced to postpone, or perhaps even abandon, their professional aspirations.
The Partridges, professors both, have witnessed this tragedy first-hand, as
talented and promising students have had to drop out, as part-time and adjunct
faculty at the thresholds of their careers have been "let go," and as course
offerings have been withdrawn due to shortages of faculty.
These conditions are being replicated in thousands of public colleges and
universities throughout the land.
It is bad enough that millions of our young people are thus being deprived of
the opportunity to realize their potentials and achieve their aspirations in
life. Far worse are the implications of this fiscal starvation of public
higher education for the future of our country. It is indisputable that no
nation can compete and survive in this technological age, without a trained
work force. Nor can an advanced and free civilization endure without a cadre
of educated public servants -- lawyers, doctors, professors, entrepreneurs,
administrators -- and a public liberally educated in the history and political
laws and traditions of the state, and instilled with critical skills, moral
insight and civic responsibility.
In sum: Public education is not, as the right wing regressives would have it,
merely an avenue of opportunity for those individuals who can afford it. The
education of each individual is an essential investment in the future of the
The city of New York recognized this a century ago, when it established its
system of tuition-free City Colleges (now the City University of New York). In
the City College system, students were accepted on academic merit alone, and
the competition was fierce. Living at home and commuting by subway, children
of immigrants had a "ladder" of opportunity that led them from poverty to the
professions -- an avenue that was taken by thousands of outstanding and
productive scientists, engineers, doctors, lawyers and teachers. These were
exemplars of Thomas Jefferson's "natural aristocracy of talent and virtue."
The City University system was replicated in California, as it established
what was to become the world's finest public university system -- until, that
is, Ronald Reagan became the Governor of California, and until, in 1979, the
infamous "Proposition 13" slashed California tax revenues.
Today, as tuition costs rise at the City University of New York, in the
California public universities, and in public colleges and universities
throughout the land, the door to higher education is closing to the talented
and motivated young people who have the misfortune of also being poor.
I was vividly reminded of this national outrage this past week, by an e-mail
message from a student residing in a neighboring city. We'll call him "Chris"
(not his real name, of course).
By way of introduction, "Chris" writes: "I am 23 years old, attending
community college ... I have had an interest in politics, the environment,
social ethics, etc. since George W. Bush started his presidency in 2000 and he
kept saying/doing things that were dissonant with my own instinctive sense of
right and wrong. I've always been a voracious consumer of literature, and in
2000 I began learning a lot about American government, politics."
He thus described his plight:
I can't get financial aid for school, I've just been laid
off from one of the two dead-end jobs that I was working, my mother is
barely getting by (I'm still living with her,) I am up to my ears in debt
from my one year at [a] State College (which I still couldn't afford with
all the borrowing,) I have absolutely no health/dental/vision insurance of
any kind (nor can I afford any,) along with several other problems. In
short, I have been feeling absolutely no hope of fulfilling my life's
purpose of becoming a lawyer and getting a new critical-thinking/progressive
political movement rolling.
However, the "conservatives," state and national, have offered
Chris and others like him a solution -- or is it a bribe?
I come from a military-oriented family and serving my
country has always appealed to me, but I never did so because I didn't want
to be forced to fight an immoral war. Now that my life is in shambles,
however, and the military is offering to basically solve the problems I
mentioned earlier, I am seriously considering it. I just don't know if I
could live with my decision later, given the current situation. I love my
country and if I knew that the military would never be used for illegitimate
reasons I'd have no moral dilemma. I just know though that I could end up
killing others because our leaders are dysfunctional, for whatever reason.
On the positive side, the military will guarantee my ability to finish
school, because they will pay off my student loans and give me the GI Bill
money to get a law degree.
When asked for counsel, it has been my policy not to state my
opinions outright, but rather to point out relevant facts and to seek with the
individual, a clarification of his or her own feelings and motivations. But
such an approach is better realized through conversation than through
And so, my first suggestion was that given his strong political convictions, he
might contact the Democratic Party offices at one of the sixteen "battleground
states," where he could offer his full-time services in exchange for a minimal
"room and board" compensation. (Of course, he should also explain his
difficult financial situation). Such political work can open up excellent
career and educational opportunities, especially to those who wish to study
law and politics.
In view of our shared convictions about the immorality of Bush's Iraq war, and
the fact that Chris had read much of what I had written for this website, I
was uncharacteristically blunt about "the military option."
First of all, I advised him to look very carefully at what the military might
be offering concerning post-service college support. And I further noted that he should most
certainly seek out a second opinion, outside the military. There may be much
less opportunity than meets the eye. Furthermore, when he has finished his
service, there may be much less available than he is being promised today.
Bush has ruthlessly slashed military and veteran's benefits. Some wounded vets
are warehoused in old barracks where they must wait months before receiving
medical care. Recently, wounded soldiers were charged for their hospital meals
-- until this outrage was made public. So one shouldn't count on that college
assistance being available, after one's tour of duty.
Though vehemently opposed to the Iraqi war Chris nonetheless hoped that if he
were assigned to Iraq, he might "do some good for the Iraqi people." This, I
suggested, might be very difficult, for as an American soldier, he would be an
instrument of national policy -- which means, of course, Bush and neo-con
policy. Because of the incredible botch by the Bush Administration, the vast
majority of Iraqis regard the American troops, not as liberators, but as
occupiers. (Just read the public opinion surveys). No Iraqi can be trusted by
our troops -- all are presumed guilty until proven innocent. This is quite
understandable, since the Iraqis' attitude toward their occupiers is exactly
the same as our might be, if a foreign army were to occupy our country. All
soldiers are "the enemy." The compassion of individual soldiers counts for
very little. So there is little opportunity for "winning hearts and minds."
Believing as we both do, that Bush is engaged in "warmongering and
imperialism," then he must understand that "Operation Iraqi Freedom" is not
about freedom. Most Iraqis would agree. The Bush doctrine of "spreading
democracy" is contradicted by its support of oppressive regimes throughout the
world, often in brutal opposition to authentic popular democratic movements.
As for Bush's devotion to democracy here in the US -- well, we all know the
To close, this is where you come in, dear reader. First of all, what would you
suggest to "Chris" -- and by extension, to any and all of the many young
people facing a similar dilemma? More to the point, are you in a position to
put this intelligent, articulate, and highly motivated person to work in the
cause that we all support?
Send your responses to me at email@example.com, and I will relay them
on to Chris.
He is ready, willing, and able to join the fight to restore our democracy, and
awaits his "orders."
So too, you can be sure, are many other young people in a similar situation.
Clearly George Bush and the right-wing regressives have no interest in helping
these worthy people. So it is up to us.
Copyright 2004 by Ernest Partridge